A Big Southern California Funding Partnership Worth Talking About

Over the last couple years, we’ve been keeping up with the Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA2050 initiative, which is a broad effort that uses crowdsourcing approaches and encompasses key local issues like education, the environment, the arts, employment, health, housing, and public safety. This initiative has been gaining a lot of steam lately and attracting the attention of other prominent foundations in Los Angeles.

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Back in December 2015, the Goldhirsh Foundation announced $100,000 awards to 10 winners of the My LA2050 Grants Challenge. The competition was stiff in the challenge’s third year, with the foundation receiving 302 submissions about ways to make Los Angeles a better place to live.

More recently, LA2050 captured the attention of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation, who have awarded an additional $600,000 in grant funding to LA2050 projects. The Disney Family Foundation awarded additional $100,000 grants to over a half dozen groups: Cell-Ed’s, GrowGood Inc., PortTech Los Angeles, International Trade Education Programs (ITEP), Port of Los Angeles High School (POLAHS), Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) & US Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA), and SBCC’s Thrive LA’s Preschool Without Walls. Meanwhile, the Annenberg Foundation also committed to giving SCOPE and SBCC $25,000 each, as well as an additional $25,000 to Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE): Jobs to Move America and Project Backboard.

Not only is the additional funding big news, but so is the fact that more Southern California funders are being drawn to a more democratic form of philanthropy. LA2050 has engaged tens of thousands of Angelenos in its work, which is the type of community engagement that many funders recognize would be valuable, but haven't yet managed. As we've noted in the past, there are not a lot of examples of foundations that have embraced a crowdsourcing approach to grantmaking.

In a separate but related project and to play off this energy, Goldhirsh and the Disney Family Foundation worked together to pilot a board member-in-residence program to prepare next generation philanthropy in anticipation of role millennials will play. Essentially, the funders used this the LA2050 Grants Challenge as a hands-on learning experience in foundation management and grants evaluation for junior board members.

All this is interesting, and worth taking a closer look at. So I connected with Tara Roth, president of the Goldhirsh Foundation, to learn more about how these funders came together and what they're up to.

Can you briefly describe how your foundation came to be involved with the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation on LA2050?

After seeing the great response from the first year of the My LA2050 Grants Challenge, we realized that we had tapped into something special. In addition to sparking an outbreak of civic idealism, we had developed a repository of almost 300 creative ideas designed to improve the future of Los Angeles.

The Annenberg Foundation recognized the value of using the My LA2050 platform as a tool for funders to help source, vet, and compare proposals all in one location.  We launched this collaboration with the Annenberg Foundation in 2013 to help them identify unique grant proposals that aligned with their funding priorities. With input from the Annenberg Foundation staff, we identified impressive, unfunded proposals from the My LA2050 Grants Challenge from which their board and staff could select grantees.

We’ve been fortunate to replicate this collaboration with the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation. In addition to using the platform to discover prospective grantees, the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation has used My LA2050 as a tool to expose their young board members to organizations in LA’s social sector. My LA2050 has served as a robust, yet accessible entry point to quickly gain a comprehensive understanding of a range of proposals designed to improve LA.

What do these two foundations in particular bring to this initiative?

Both foundations bring a spirit of innovation and commitment to collaboration. It has been refreshing to join in a formal collaboration with respected leaders in LA philanthropy who also understand the power of supporting community-driven projects to change the future of our region. We know that this work in the social sector is hard. We’ve been happy to expand support for social innovation in Los Angeles by virtue of these partnerships.

Conducting grantmaking in a crowdsourced, crowd-voted fashion is risky. It falls completely outside the norm of how foundations operatethough that is changing. Both foundations have recognized the value of testing this mechanism and taking this risk to reveal a different, experimental side of LA’s social sector.

What is the most pressing issue in Los Angeles right now that philanthropic funders should pay attention to and why?

Los Angeles is at an inflection point, one that provides opportunities across multiple sectors to truly shape the future. This requires strategic and reasoned action to ensure equitable growth. It is critical that we think about how all Angelenos can share in the region’s future success and how we can create an ecosystem with economic opportunity at every level and for every population of our diverse region.

Issues like homelessness, affordable housing, and inclusive economic development are critical to ensuring mobility and progress for all Angelenos. Funders, government, and businesses have an opportunity to use their organizational strengths and unique vantage points collectively to mitigate social market failures that have exacerbated these challenges.

At the Goldhirsh Foundation, we view civic engagement and social connectedness as pressing issues. Both of these are linked to the challenges and the solutions that we confront in Los Angeles and as a society. We have heard directly from Angelenos that social connectedness is the glue that holds the region together and shows promise to spur widespread change...

Whether by sourcing opportunities for volunteering, voting for officials who will chart our path forward, or collaborating with organizations to scale complex solutions for systems change, greater connectedness can help make our vision for Los Angeles a reality.

What we’ve realized is that no one has quite cracked that nut. An analysis of trends that emerged in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge revealed that people perceive voting via the My LA2050 Grants Challenge equivalent to voting in a public election. We’re trying to understand how we can translate that online activation into deeper, more systemic civic and political action.

What is your foundation looking for in the next round of grantees?

Seeding innovation is at the core of our mission at the Goldhirsh Foundation. We are excited about supporting smart ways of solving social challenges, especially if they involve experimentation or risk. Proof of concept ideas are intriguing. We like to seed ideas that, if successfully tested or piloted, could be scaled with larger organizations and eventually with government or other systems.

For instance, one of our current grantees, People for Parks, is addressing access to open space by opening recreational areas at elementary schools to the surrounding community after school, on weekends and during school holidays. The organization is proving their community-school park concept. We hope that the Los Angeles Unified School District adopts this model more widely or works in collaboration with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to expand park access.

Is Goldhirsh doing anything else at this time to collaborate with other foundations or donors to maximize your impact in L.A.?

Via the Goldhirsh Foundation, I serve on the Southern California Grantmakers board which is doing a great job of unifying funders in affinity groups. We have also been working with LA n Sync, the Annenberg Foundation’s initiative that provides technical assistance and support to make Los Angeles more competitive for state and federal grant funding. Over the last three years, LA n Sync has helped secure more than $80 million in grants for Los Angeles. Additionally, we are continuing discussions with funders who are interested in using the My LA2050 Grants Challenge platform to conduct a portion of their grantmaking.

Anything else you'd like to add?

We’ve piloted a board member-in-residence program with the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation. The program aims to expose the next generation of philanthropists to the operations and functions of a foundation from the inside out. Los Angeles is going to experience a $114 billion generational transfer of wealth by the year 2020, according to a study by the California Community Foundation. Research already shows that the recipients of this wealth--millennials and women--will want to conduct grantmaking differently. So, we are trying to contribute where we can.

We’re excited to work with other foundations to expose younger board members to innovative, technology-enabled, and more democratized philanthropy. Our current board member-in-residence was instrumental in evaluating the My LA2050 Grants Challenge proposals and will soon pursue a graduate degree in nonprofit management. The next generation is passionate, and we’re excited to provide a vehicle for their passions for social good.